Hockey, hockey and more hockey!

Marc Elliott

The best, least talked about star in hockey, Florida’s Sasha Barkov.

Amsoil Arena – I have just observed two of the finest displays of collegiate hockey I have ever seen in my life. And since I’ve been watching the college game since 1965, that’s saying quite a bit.
This action was the hockey weekend of all weekends as far as college hockey goes in the State of Hockey. You only need to insert two words here; Gophers-Bulldogs, and you need not add anything else.
Any true fan here will know exactly what you mean.
The UMD Bulldogs, behind the goaltending of Ryan Fanti, earned a pair of wins in this home and home weekend. A 5-3 win in Minneapolis and a 2-1 victory in Duluth this evening. In the Friday tilt, I thought the Bulldog’s tenacious checking got them the win, especially their checking in the neutral zone when they didn’t have the puck.

That part of their game was still evident on Saturday eve, but Fanti held up under a few different offensive assaults by the Gophers for the win and the sweep.
I’m going to admit that I have seen much more pro hockey at various levels than I have seen the college game the past few years. But I can safely say that even when compared to the pro game, both squads’ skill level exhibited in these games was off the charts. Collegiate hockey has never been better.

Between the two clubs, a handful of players will make it to the NHL at some point.
Next weekend the Gophers will battle Notre Dame in the Twin Cities, while UMD has a bye weekend set up, resuming action the following weekend at Western Michigan.
IN LAST WEEK’S World Wide Reader, I projected some divisional finishes for the National Hockey League clubs. This week I’ll extend that to include a possible Stanley Cup tourney winner. Many league analysts are calling for either a Vegas Golden Knights Cup win or the Colorado Avs, and some are stating that the Tampa Bay Lightning will three-peat.

And I say hold on a minute there, “Quicksdraw.” What say, you Baba Louie?
I say that I do not believe the Cup victor is coming out of the West, and I do not see the Bolts earning a three-peat.
Well then, who will do what with which to whom?
Here are my divisional finish predictions from last week:
Atlantic Div: 1) FLA 2) TBL 3) TOR 4) BOS 5) OTT 6) BUF 7) DET 8) MON
Metro Div; 1) CAR 2) NYI 3) PIT 4) WAS 5) NYR 6) NJD 7) CBJ 8) PHI
Pacific Div: 1) EDM 2) VGK 3) VAN 4) LAK 5) CAL 6) SEA 7) ANA 8) SJS
Central Div: 1) COL 2) MIN 3) STL 4) DAL 5) WIN 6) CHI 7) NSH 8) ARI
This order of finish would give us the following Eastern divisional playoff series:
Atlantic: FLA vs. BOS and TBL vs. TOR, FLA and TBL advance, FLA wins.
Metro: CAR vs. WAS and NYI vs. PIT, CAR and NYI advance, CAR wins.
The Eastern Conference victor will be FLA.
Between FLA/BOS, the Cats have the tending while the Bruins tending is up in the air. TOR gets in the playoff, but as usual, they cannot win a series. Goaltending and defense will be their issue. CAR ousts the aging WAS roster, while the NYI will have too much for PIT to overcome.
In the Conference Final, FLA’s star power and netminding will carry them. And, by the way, they have a pretty good coach behind the bench too. The Canes are close, but no cigar.
The Western Conference will be a bit trickier to handicap as I see the Central placing five clubs in the tourney, while the Pacific only fields three.
Here is how it will break down:
Central: COL vs. DAL, and MIN vs. STL. COL and MIN advance. MIN wins.
Pacific: EDM vs. WIN and VGK vs. VAN. EDM and VGK advance. VGK wins.
The Western Conference victor will be the VGK.
In the COL/DAL series, I still feel that COL may have a slight edge offensively, and I think they hold that same edge in netminding.
While the WILD vs. STL could be a tossup, I believe the WILD overall team game can prevail here. It will be anything but an easy series, though.
Between COL and the WILD, I may not have said this in the recent past, but the WILD can win this series. They have the team game and game-breakers to do it. WILD advance.
This season the EDM Oilers and WIN Jets will meet up again, but this year the Jets will not sweep the Oil from the tourney, and I don’t see them advancing after this series either. Pick EDM.
The VGK will have too much for VAN to overcome from perhaps every phase of the game. When VAN let goalie Jacob Markstrom walk in the recent past in free agency, I thought it was a big mistake on the Canucks part. I still feel the same way. Thatcher Demko is good but not fully developed as of yet. VGK wins.

In the West Final, the 2021 Cup tourney featured a first-round series between the Knights and WILD. It went an unexpected seven games with the VGK winning. The game was even until just after the middle of the second period.
It’s fair to say the teams weren’t that far off from each other skill-wise, and the difference in that G7 was in overall street toughness.
Yup. And I can say that quite seriously because this tourney is like no other in pro sports. You hear the talk about the playoffs in this league requiring a whole different level from its players to win because it is true.
Along with that is that next level personal toughness is required.
I’m saying that if you sent all 40 VGK and WILD players into a dark hockey alley, the VGK, even sans Ryan Reaves, are likely a tad tougher than the WILD are.
In last season’s G7, it began when Jonas Brodin took a shot from behind that sent him from the game. It continued with a Reaves hit on former WILD D-man Ryan Suter that diminished his play the rest of the tilt. They manned up with toughness, and the WILD eventually succumbed to it.
And they aren’t likely to be able to match it this year either. The WILD were eliminated in a most ugly manner in a 6-2 beatdown. The VGK lost out in the third round, and I believe the WILD series took some wind from their sails. The cumulative effect was in full play.
But, this year, the VGK advance again.
Who takes a VGK vs. FLA series for the Cup?
In my book, it’s FLA’s time to shine. They have a better forwards group, are slightly better in the D-corps, and if Sergei Bobrovsky is on his game, I feel he would outplay Robin Lehner. Behind the bench, I have to give the nod to veteran coach Joel Quenneville over Pete DeBoer. Both are very good, but ‘Q’ has the goods.

Been there, done that. FLA hoists the CUP in 2022! PEACE